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April 8th, 1990: iconic guitar twangs, a small bird, a waterfall, a log factory, a build-up in music leading to the show’s logo: depictions of idyllic rural small-town American life; but then: a corpse wrapped in plastic washed-up on the shores of a lake, distraught parents, a lady and her dog, and the arrival of a perky outsider FBI agent. Idyllicism into nightmare; and with this, Twin Peaks announced its arrival to the world.
This departure from anything else on television at the time should not have come as a great surprise given the involvement of David Lynch, directing and co-writing the series alongside Mark Frost, having established himself as a singular director capable of fusing the ordinariness of suburbia with surreal and scary visions in films such as Eraserhead and Blue Velvet. And yet even now, 30 years after its initial broadcast, Twin Peaks remains possibly his most fondly appreciated work, the television format giving the luxury of a prolonged story as well as a diverse cast of beloved and bizarre characters for him to explore.
The story starts as simple enough murder mystery fare but is distinguished by its offbeat tone, at times both funny and touching, its surreal imagery, and idyllic rural setting. As the show continues, the plot evolves into something far weirder and more complex as the characters begin to discover just how much darkness can be hidden in the woods surrounding the town but to say any more would be to spoil the fun of the initial watch.
The series proved to be a huge success at the time of its initial broadcast, with a public interest in the mystery of ‘who killed Laura Palmer?’ creating what would nowadays be referred to as event television. With no Twitter at the time, the show relied on the ‘water cooler effect’ whereby workers would watch the show on a Sunday evening, in order to join in break-time discussions at the office about it the following day.
However, halfway through the second season, Frost and Lynch were pressured by television executives into revealing the identity of the series’ murderer, something they had intended to remain unknown. Without the central mystery, and as a result in switching timeslots, viewership soon dwindled and the series was cancelled at the end of its second season, despite ending on a cliff-hanger intended to revitalise audience interest. A year later, a prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, was released, but other than that the series was to remain dormant for the next 25 years.
Over time, fan cultures such as fanzines, conventions, and eventually the internet, kept interest in the show alive, and it soon developed a reputation as a cult classic. Finally, in October 2014, the official announcement came that a sequel series was in development, which would bring back returning and new cast to continue the story 25 years later.
The series premiered in the summer of 2017 to much critical acclaim, with many viewing its quality as bridging the perceived artistic gap between what is considered film and television. Compared to the original, the new series can be seen as a far darker and more surreal experience, but what else was to be expected from the show that always breaks the boundaries? Even 30 years on, the characters and world that Lynch and Frost have created feel as alive as ever, making the show perfect for fans to revisit or for newcomers to immerse themselves in. ‘It’s happening again’ announced the tagline for the show’s third season; the truth is Twin Peaks never stopped happening.